In the Presence of Genius

I just got home from the theater where I watched, with rapt attention, “Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview.” I have to say that it was the most interesting, the most fascinating, maybe the best–certainly the best in a movie theater–70 minutes I have spent this millennium. (I realize that saying this raises the bar too high for anyone who reads this and then sees the interview to feel the same). Sure, I was a big Apple and Steve Jobs fan going in. When he returned to Apple in 1996 I felt visceral joy. Working at a tech start-up (that died when the bubble crashed in 2000) I sat at my MacBook with co-workers watching Jobs’ keynote, I think in 1999, where he took the “i” off of his “iCEO” title, and we cheered. We felt a good tech future was again possible, and that a vision had been restored. Little did we know that he would take his old company, 90 days from bankruptcy, to being the largest corporation in America, all the while not really caring about the money.
Still, it was safe to say I went into watching this 1995 Interview, filmed a year before he returned to Apple, with at best modest expectations. It was filmed for a TV series on geeks and technology, and of the 70 minutes filmed, only 10 made it into the episode where it appeared. The full interview was lost for years until one of the people involved with the project found an old VHS version of the whole thing in a box of old stuff. They restored it to 35mm as best they could, and the quality is fine. It is shown basically as filmed, with a very brief introduction by the interviewer today.
From the beginning it is clear you are in the presence of a visionary. A rare, true genius. It is of course bittersweet to watch it so soon after Jobs’ death. And all the more interesting, knowing what was to come, to see his thoughts a year before returning to the company he built.
I did learn some things about computers in the interview. And I learned a lot more about business, and for the first time understand a lot of things I have seen happen in companies I have worked for–for good and more often for bad. Mostly though, I think in watching the interview you learn about how to live life in the time you are in. I walked out feeling as invigorated, as hopeful, as I have been in a long time. I’m reminded that geniuses simply live and do what they do; the prevailing winds be damned. Genius is more powerful than those winds. And while it sounds over-the-top, I can almost say that it made me glad to live in the era when Steve Jobs was working his magic with the medium at hand that we use for communicating; the computer. And that was all he saw it as; the medium. That is why the Mac team he built that created the first Macintosh computer was made up of people with computer knowledge, sure, but people who were also poets and artists and anthropologists and biologists and more.
Something he said crystalized what makes Apple unique. Jobs saw computers and computer science as firmly in the liberal arts. They are probably the only computer company that would see themselves that way, and it is crucial to who they are and to their success and influence.
Of course, watching this interview one also thinks of Jobs’ famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford–ten years and lights years away from this interview–; often considered the greatest commencement speech ever given. I don’t know about that, though it is an amazing speech. Combined, the speech and this interview are two enormous pieces of wisdom left to us by perhaps the greatest visionary–at least the greatest visionary with the ability to make it realized–of my generation, or even of the last century. When Jobs died, he was compared to Einstein or Edison or Henry Ford. I wondered if that was a bit much. And now I believe those comparisons are fully deserved.
Finally, it was interesting to watch Jobs in 1995 when he was about 40, just over a decade younger than I am now. I’d followed his career and been a faithful Apple user from a four-year lag behind Jobs for the last 30 years or so. It reminded me that life is full of endless possibilities, and that the possible is limited only by our imagination and desire to work hard.
I follow politics too much, and in our current world watching politics is not the way to get inspired or to believe that anything can get done, much less that we are limited only by our imagination. That may be part of why I was moved and inspired by these 70 lost minutes. It was a wonderful respite from the day to day world of political silliness, dangerous political silliness. But that is the smaller part of the reason. Mainly it was the joy of being in the presence of one of the great geniuses–flaws and all–of the time in history when I am blessed to walk upon the planet.

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About JP

We're two guys who met in college, in 1980. We've stayed in touch, and like to talk politics, current events, music and religion. JP is nore liberal than Sid, but not in every way. We figure that dialogue stimulates ideas, moderates perspective, and is in general friendly. These are things we need badly in these dangerous times. The blog name is taken from a song by Bruce Cockburn.
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